• P •
Word Meaning Eponym
paean A song or hymn of praise; an encomium. Greek Paean (also Paeon) "healer" and "song" (probably because incantation was a part of healing at the time), an alternative name for Apollo, the physician of the Greek gods and god of healing.
peony A domestic tuber with large flowers thick with petals. Possibly from Greek Paeon {also Paean) "healer" and "song" (probably because incantation was a part of healing at the time), alternative name for Apollo, the physician of the Greek gods and himself the god of healing.
paisley A material of brightly colored abstract design featuring teardrop-shaped swirls. A town that was a 19th-century textile center in southern Scotland.
palladium 1. A protector or safeguard. 2. A sacred object believed to protect an administrative region (city, state, country, etc.) After the protector of Troy, the Greek goddess Pallas Athena.
pander To give in to the wishes of someone from whom you hope to gain something in return. Pandarus, an obsequious character in the poem Filostrato by Giovanni Boccaccio.
panic To lose control of yourself in a state of nervous anxiety. Pan, the Greek god of the forests, shepherds and flocks, represented as a human torso with a goat's legs, horns, and ears.
pants Clothing worn from the waist down have a separate sleeve for each leg. A clipping of pantaloon from Italian Pantalone, a silly old buffoon in the Italian Comedia dell'Arte, who wore spectacles, baggy breeches and stockings. He was named for the patron saint of Venice, San Panteleone, 4th century Venetian physician, executed for his belief in Christ. Pantaloons originally referred to bloomers, baggy underwear worn by women. Later it came to refer to pants tied below the knees and worn by men. From there it went on to be shortened to simply pants and refer to any sort of trousers.
pascal A unit of pressure equal to one newton per square meter. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), French mathematician and philosopher who invented the adding machine and contributed to the theory of probability.
pasteurize pasteurise To destroy bacteria by heating. Louise Pasteur (1822-95), the French chemist and bacteriologist who discovered that bacteria are the cause of certain diseases.
pavlova A dessert consisting of a meringue shell filled with fruit and topped with whipped cream. Anna Pavlova (1885-1931), a famous Russian ballerina.
Pavlovian Automatic, unthinking, as a direct result of a stimulus. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936), Russian physiologist who discovered that the repetition of a stimulus conditions a predictable response pattern.
Peach Melba Ice cream with peaches topped with raspberry liqueur. Helen Porter Mitchell (1861-1931), a famous opera singer of the late 19th and early 20th century, whose stage name was Dame Nellie Melba (taken from the name of her native city of Melbourne), honored by having many trifles named for her (see also Melba toast).
peavy A lumberman's pike with a spike and pivoting hooked arm at the end. Joseph Peavey, an American blacksmith who died in 1873.
pecksniff pecksniffian An unctuous hypocrite who meddles in the affairs of others. Seth Pecksniff, a character in the novel The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844) by Charles Dickens.
Pennsylvania US state between New Jersey and Ohio with its capital in Harrisburg. Sir William Penn (1621-1670), British admiral and Quaker pacifist, who urged a union of all the English colonies long before the United States came into being.
petersham 1. A rough, knotted woolen cloth. 2. A style of men's overcoat with a short cape attached. 3. A reinforced corded tape used in dress-making to stiffen areas. Charles Stanhope, Viscount Petersham, 4th Earl of Harrington (1780-1851) and British army officer who set the trend of wearing the coat.
petri dish A shallow, circular, flat-bottomed glass or plastic dish with vertical sides and a cover of the same shape used to hold laboratory cultures or samples. Julius Petri (1852-1921), the German bacteriologist who first developed the dish and proposed its uses.
pinchbeck An alloy of copper and zinc used in making cheap jewelry that resembles gold. Christopher Pinchbeck (circa 1670-1732), the London watchmaker, who developed the alloy.
platonic Purely spiritual, ideal, not physical. Plato (Platon in Greek; circa 427-347 BCE), one of the three great Greek philosophers along with Socrates and Aristotle, who laid the foundation of Western culture.
plimsoll 1. The line on the hull of a ship that indicates the legal limit to which it may be loaded. 2. A sneaker (British). Samuel Plimsoll (1824-1898), British merchant who played a crucial role in the reform of shipping rules.
poinsettia A tropical American plant that is very popular at Christmas which has red or white upper leaves that appear to be petals around a small group of actual flowers that are yellow in its center. Noel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851), U.S. ambassador to Mexico, thought to have brought the plant to the attention of botanists.
poise A unit of dynamic viscosity equal to one dyne-second per square centimeter. J. L. M. Poiseuille (1799-1869), a French physician and physiologist.
pompadour A hair style in which the front of the hair is swept up and back in a large roll. Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764), an influential French noblewoman and lover of Louis XV.
poncelet An obsolete French unit of power equal to one hundred kilogram-meters of energy per second, now replaced by horsepower. Jean Victor Pocelet (1788-1867), French mathematician and engineer.
praline Candy made of pecans in syrup boiled until solid. César de Choiseul, Count Plessis-Praslin (1598-1675), a nutty French field marshal.
procrustean Ruthlessly forcing conformity. Procrustes, a mythical Greek giant who ruthlessly stretched or shortened captives to make them fit his beds.
Promethean Boldly, defiantly creative, breaking the mold. Prometheus, a demigod in Greek mythology who stole fire from Olympus and gave it to humans and was punished by Zeus who chained him to a rock and sent an eagle to eat his liver, which grew back daily.
protean Polymorphic, having many different shapes or forms. Proteus, sea god in Greek mythology who could change his appearance at will.
pyrrhic Victorious at a great cost, with enormous losses, as a pyrrhic victory. Pyrrhus (319-272 BCE), king of Epirus, who defeated the Romans at Heraclea (280) and Asculum (279) despite staggering losses.
python A large constrictor reptile that grows up to 20 feet (6 meters) long. A serpent that guarded the oracular cult until killed by Apollo according to Greek mythology.
• Q •
Word Meaning Eponym
quassia A South American tree with bright scarlet flowers that yields the bitter tonic quassia, popular in the 19th century, from its wood and bark. A Surinamese slave, Graman Quassi, who discovered its medicinal properties.
quisling Traitor, collaborator. Vidkun Abraham Quisling (1887-1945), a Norwegian collaborator with the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II.
Quixotic Foolishly idealistic. Don Quixote, the hero of novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616).
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